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How to write a research proposal for a Master's dissertation

How to write a research proposal for a Master's dissertation

by Nelly

Unsure how to start your research proposal as part of your dissertation? Read below our top tips from Banking and Finance student, Nelly, on how to structure your proposal and make sure it's a strong, formative foundation to build your dissertation.

It's understandable if the proposal part of your dissertation feels like a waste of time. Why not just get started on the dissertation itself? Isn't 'proposal' a just fancy word for a plan?

It's important to see your Master's research proposal not only as a requirement but as a way of formalising your ideas and mapping out the direction and purpose of your dissertation. A strong, carefully prepared proposal is instrumental in writing a good dissertation.


How to structure a research proposal for a Master's dissertation

First things first: what do you need to include in a research proposal? The recommended structure of your proposal is:

  1. Motivation: introduce your research question and give an overview of the topic, explain the importance of your research
  2. Theory:  draw on existing pieces of research that are relevant to your topic of choice, leading up to your question and identifying how your dissertation will explore new territory
  3. Data and methodology: how do you plan to answer the research question? Explain your data sources and methodology
  4. Expected results: finally, what will the outcome be? What do you think your data and methodology will find?




Top Tips for Writing a Dissertation Research Proposal

    1. Choose a dissertation topic well in advance of starting to write it

      I would suggest roughly four months. Use this time to do as much reading as you can, and find out what topic best aligns with your personal interests and what matters to you. You're going to be working on this topic at a very intense level, it makes sense that you choose something you enjoy writing about.

    2. Allow existing research to guide you

      When you start researching your topic and reading existing research papers, sift through their respective bibliographies. Expect that in the early stages, you may feel a little lost and overwhelmed, but let the reading guide you in the right direction. If you find you're procrastinating or not sure where to start, diving deep into existing research will always prove productive and valuable.

      As you continue reading, you will likely start to identify some gaps in the literature. This is where you will find your opportunity to leave a mark and write an impressive dissertation.

      Extra tip: Make notes of how each research paper tests its hypothesis and validates its results, you´ll need them later!

    3. Make your research questions as specific as possible

      When you choose a topic, it will naturally be very broad and general. For example, Market Efficiency. Under this umbrella term, there are so many questions you could explore and challenge. But, it's so important that you hone in on one very specific question, such as 'How do presidential elections affect market efficiency?'  When it comes to your Master's, the more specific and clear-cut the better.

    4. Collate your bibliography as you go

      Everyone knows it's best practice to update your bibliography as you go, but that doesn't just apply to the main bibliography document you submit with your dissertation. Get in the habit of writing down the title, author and date of the relevant article next to every note you make - you'll be grateful you did it later down the line!

    5. Colour code your notes based on which part of the proposal they apply to

      Use highlighters and sticky notes to keep track of why you thought a certain research piece was useful, and what you intended to use it for. For example, if you've underlined lots of sections of a research article when it comes to pulling your research proposal together it will take you longer to remember what piece of research applies to where.

      Instead, you may want to highlight anything that could inform your methodology in blue, any quotations that will form your theory in yellow etc. This will save you time and stress later down the line.

    6. Write your Motivation after your Theory

      Your Motivation section will be that much more coherent and specific if you write it after you've done all your research. All the reading you have done for your Theory will better cement the importance of your research, as well as provide plenty of context for you to write in detail your motivation. Think about the difference between 'I'm doing this because I'm interested in it' vs. 'I'm doing this because I'm passionate, and I've noticed a clear gap in this area of study which is detailed below in example A, B and C.'

    7. Make sure your Data and Methodology section is to the point and succinct

      For the Data and Methodology part, you must get to the point. This might change later, but at this point, you just need an outline of the kind of research you'll be doing. As mentioned in tip five, you should already have inspiration from others to inform your methodology. When it comes to the data you will need, pick a country, dates, frequency, etc, and think about 'why'.

      The 'why' behind your research is critical because it means there are good or bad, right or wrong results if you have supported everything with theory and data.

    8. Link your Expectations to existing research

      Your expectations should be based on research and data, not conjecture and assumptions. It doesn't matter if the end results match up to what you expected, as long as both of these sections are informed by research and data. 


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